My friend and respected consultant Mike Henry opines in his most recent blog commentary [link] that “…the growth of Low Power FM (LPFM) stations…should serve as yet another wake-up call for local NPR News radio stations.”
Henry cites a New York Times article from last Friday (10/14) that spotlighted the growth of Low Power FM (LPFM) stations [link]. Henry’s conclusion is:
The Times’ hypothesis is that, along with being the sole outlet for ethnic and community groups, LPFM stations are quickly finding ground and a path as a true hyper-local news outlet in the vacuum being created by NPR News stations that do not cover the local ground.
While there is merit in Henry’s op-ed, he is missing the big picture. LPFM stations and NPR News stations exist in two different worlds.
ARE NPR NEWS STATIONS IGNORING LOCAL NEWS?
Henry focuses on a quote by Michael Lasar, co-founder of Radio Survivor [link] from the NYT article:
“There’s still a need for local news and information, which many public radio stations have abandoned,” he said. “There’s a lot of stations that just go on automatic pilot and play NPR and satellite downloads. That’s Low Power FM’s ace in the hole.”
Lasar is smart fellow who literally wrote the book about the history of Pacifica Radio but his work primarily covers NFCB-ish community radio, not NPR News Stations. I believe that Lasar and Henry’s notion that, as a group, NPR News stations are simply repeaters of nationally syndicated NPR content that have abandoned local news, is not true.
Yes, there are NPR News stations that do little more than repeat network programming but there are lots of stations that are doing much, much more. In fact, increased local and regional content by NPR News stations is one of public radio’s brightest new developments: Consider:
• Station-based talk and interview programs are increasing in number and quality. We’ve reported about On Second Thought, at WRAS, Atlanta [link]; Boston Public Radio at WGBH [link]; Essential Pittsburgh at WESA [link]; and Where We Live at Connecticut Public Radio [link]. These programs typically out-perform NPR News magazines and are sources of considerable pledging and underwriting revenue.
• CPB-sponsored Regional Journalism Centers (RJC) are creating new regional and local content. We have previously reported on RJCs such as the Fronteras Desk (based at KJZZ, Phoenix) covering border issues from San Antonio to San Diego [link]; the Texas Station Collaborative based at KERA and KUT [link]; and the New England News Collaborative based at WNPR [link].
• Many NPR News stations cover hyper-local news on their websites, via social media and podcasts.
• NPR ONE allows listeners to build there own menu of news whenever, wherever they chose including plenty of local news.
Mike Henry ends his op-ed with this thought:
“If LPFM stations can now eat your lunch, then your lunch deserves to be eaten. I relish the opportunity to help any broadcaster, mighty NPR News stations or nimble LPFM stations, serve their local audiences the way they deserve.”
Holy hyperbole Mike!
Yes, there are some LPFM stations doing a terrific job covering local communities and interest groups, but they aren’t the norm. The average NPR has an annual budget of around $2.5 million and I have seldom seen a LPFM station with an annual budget of more than $50,000. NPR News stations and LPFM stations operate of two very different levels.
NONCOM PRODUCERS CONTINUE TO DOMINATE PODCAST METRICS
Podtrac [link] just released their September list of the top ten podcasts, ranked by the number of estimated Unique Monthly Audience. Seven of the ten are sponsored by noncommercial or nonprofit orgranizations. http://analytics.podtrac.com/
American Public Media is new on the top ten, likely powered by podcasts from Marketplace. This American Life had the biggest month-to-month decline perhaps because Serial is out of season. Below is our custom chart comparing Podtrac data from August and September.